The Campus Read-Option: A Heisman Race For The Ages

Kyler Murray, Tua Tagovailoa and Dwayne Haskins are at the forefront of a passing revolution, setting up what should be the closest Heisman vote in nearly a decade.

Football has been undergoing a passing game revolution. And this year’s Heisman Trophy finalists represent that in ways that have been exhilarating.

Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins are at the forefront of that revolution, setting up what should be the closest Heisman vote in nearly a decade.

When the trophy gets presented on Saturday night, only one of these exceptional quarterbacks will be selected for induction into the most prestigious fraternity in all of college sports.

But all three of them have left an indelible mark on the college game. 

For the majority of the 2018 season, Tagovailoa seemed to have the Heisman in the bag.

His campaign blasted off in incredible fashion during the second half of last year’s national championship game, when he emerged from the locker room as a relative unknown and proceeded to become a legend in just two-quarters of play.

Two weeks ago, the sophomore from Hawaii threw five touchdown passes and ran for another score as Alabama crushed Auburn, 52-21, in the Iron Bowl. The top-ranked Crimson Tide finished the regular season undefeated, with Tua accounting for 36 passing scores and five more on the ground. He’d only thrown two interceptions all year.

But in last weekend’s SEC championship game, while visibly bothered from a knee injury that has hobbled him on a number of occasions this year, Tagovailoa had arguably the worst game of his brief career.

It was the first time that he actually looked human, completing only 10 of his 25 passes for 164 yards and two interceptions.

And in the aftermath of that performance, the door was opened for Murray and Haskins to stake their claim as worthy contenders to the Heisman crown that seemed to belong to Tagovailoa all year.

Murray will go down as one of the greatest two-sports athletes the college game has ever seen. Last summer, the Oakland Athletics selected him with the ninth overall pick in the MLB draft and handed him a $4.66 million signing bonus. The organization proceeded to grant their permission for him to play one final season of college football.

And goodness gracious, that one season will forever resonate as one of the most remarkable we’ve ever witnessed.

Coming into the 2018 campaign, many wondered how Oklahoma could come close to replacing the phenomenal play of  2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. But Murray didn’t merely do an admirable job, he’s on pace to shatter the Mayfield’s FBS season passing efficiency record.

Murray is the first FBS player ever to average at least 300 yards passing and 60 yards rushing heading into a bowl game. In terms of dual-threat quarterbacks, he’s surpassed what otherworldy talents like Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson have accomplished in a single season.

No school has ever produced back-to-back Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks. But given how Murray has consistently played, it looks as if the University of Oklahoma will become the first. 

Last year, Mayfield surpassed the single-season yards-per-passing-attempt record set by Michael Vick, a mark that stood for 17 years. But Murray’s 2018 campaign surpassed that. He now holds the record with 11.92 yards per attempt. Mayfield’s 2017 season ranks second with 11.45. And Tagovailoa is right behind him at 11.40.

Historically, when the Heisman vote is close, it’s because one transcendent player has not separated himself from the pack. This was the case in 2009, when Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy each received more than 200 first-place votes.

But this year, we’ve seen three remarkable talents separate themselves from the pack.

It took Haskins a minute to draw the same spotlight that Murray and Tagovailoa have shared all season, but the exceptional nature of his full body of work cannot be denied. He’s the main reason why Ohio State was able to win the Big Ten and nearly earned a spot in the College Football Playoff. 

Haskins finished the regular season as the nation’s top passer with 4,580 yards, 47 touchdown passes and 51 total touchdowns — all single-season Big Ten records. 

One thing is certain. There can only be one Heisman Trophy winner this year. But you can’t go wrong with either choice, because they’re all deserving.

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